Somkhele and nearby Fuleni would be ideal places to start phasing out coal mining and replacing it with sustainable job creation. Its situation near game reserves renders it perfect for creating jobs in tourism and environmental work. It is also an area of huge historical significance as a site of struggles which shaped the historic Zulu kingdom.
A 40-year-old report on soils and land use in the neighbouring Mpukunyoni and Nhlana Traditional Authority areas in northern KwaZulu-Natal extols their suitability for agriculture. However, in these areas, adjacent to the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Parks and the oldest proclaimed wilderness area in Africa, such development did not materialise, for in 2007 Petmin's Tendele Coal Mining (Pty) Ltd started its open-cast operations in Somkhele, Mpukunyoni.
Since 2014 the threat of coal mining has also been hanging over the heads of Nhlana's Fuleni residents. Since the Somkhele operations started, mining has moved to new villages, displacing over a hundred families from land they have occupied for generations.
The expansion drive to displace yet more families from Ophondweni - which led to the assassination of community leader Mam' Fikile Ntshangase - is but one manifestation of the social and environmental degradation caused by this mining. As long...